Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tag. YOU'RE It. Needed: A Tag for History, Culture, on Internet Search Engines.

History and Culture.
Try to find those on Technorati, other web organizers.

Find entertainment, gossip, sports, politics, but no history, no culture.

What is the value of history.  Historian Margaret MacMillan, in Dangerous Games, The Uses and Abuses of History, looks at the misdeeds of historians in reconstructing what their ideologies want. Despite that, she concludes that the point of studying history is not to be able to predict, because that may well not work. Situations differ. Can it explain.  Not necessarily. But history, she continues, teaches us perspective and to foster an appreciation of our own limits in trying to look back. We can never see the past fully or clearly, given the limits or our own time here.

"If the study of history does nothing more than humility, skepticism, and an awareness of ourselves, then it has done something useful."  

See New York Times Review of Books, by David M. Kennedy,

With that in mind, look at the choices for categorizing a site online, at the internet clearinghouses.

We see entertainment, business, lifestyle, politics, sports, technology. No History category except, so far, at StumbleUpon. Even there, it is not even on the home page, just at a teaser, see ://  No topic there covers something like it, a Culture site:  just Cyberculture, one word.  How about learning about Islamic culture, the mindset of colonials, anything. Nope. Nuthin'. Do it yourself.

None of those canned topics so popular on the search vehicles lead to insight the way historical-cultural perspective does. Are we done with insight? No need for more? Perspective? Got it all already?  Hardly.

Should we, instead, for our own good, add history to our research tools to
  • plan for the future, insofar as the past can help;
  • assess the garble of the agenda-filled talking heads more wisely;
  • even help the beleaguered school systems, and offer an education-type place for do-it-yourself, when the media's profit interest gets in the way.
  • train people to watch out for weasel words - those that sneak in an opinion or press a viewpoint just by the form of the question, or nature of comment and its wording;  and challenge the practitioners. 

History complements education. Yet we separate the two.

Some of us really enjoyed law school - and largely because of the history of human conflict resolution, principles, that was a part of its curriculum. Conflict resolution history lives still in any country's roots. Sonia, cheers.

History research: How else to understand. Dan Widing and an unidentified cleric in trouble, Croatia.

Offer a slot for history and its oddities, methodology (facts change, and so do conclusions) guidance; and add culture - how have other people organized their ideas and systems. What worked.

History needs a place on the hatrack of the internet. It adds to issues of celebrity, slant, persuasion, profits, hoarding, how-to's, voyeurism, and mere opinion-churning. Build it and they will come. Field of Dreams, film, inspiration at :// Act first, and results follow. That is a familiar concept for ballparks. Apply that concept of building first, and seeing what happens later, to one of the greatest needs of our culture: to reinstate history (as a process, not as someone's slanted summary); and culture (the opportunity to learn); as worthy, very cool, even vital, aspects, of a responsible, full life.

1. History is a weighing machine. And a mirror.
Knowing history's events can balance the pull of current trends, help weigh policy and unmask self-serving "leaders". Many cultures had great ideas and great leaders - what happened when those ideas became implemented by later systems, and lesser beings.

2. History got lost in the dumb-down or tainted textbooks.

No wonder people turn away. History. The great global guide, has been deflected, abused, and relegated to terminally selective, slanted summaries by people with agendas.
We know history is devalued in schools - some say it is too vast a topic to cover any of it well. We justify discontinuing the study because of the inaccuracies in the courses that are taught, see ://

3. Excluding history is propaganda by omission.

What other people learned in peace and stress, how they coped, is irrelevant to us. Is that so?

Is history simply too broad to be addressed at all - consider that the mere choice, of what to include and what not, will shape the little learners. Exclude a history of mankind's successes in mind-body or herbal healing (we survived, didn't we?) and that topic loses legitimacy. Observers note a lack of history taught in schools, and suggest an objective subject-matter focus, rather than trying to do surveys.

A history of religion, for example, can be valuable so long as it is not a proseletyzer. Religion motivates war. Should we not study it. See ://

How about studying great figures in history who started great religions, and what happened afterwards. Idea vs. system again. Global. See Rabbi Shmuel ben David of "Isaac's Torah"

No history offered for this group or that? Must mean they are less important, less valuable. And that gets taught by omission. And some say it should not be taught at all, but any history should be left to the community's elders and the community, not by schools that taint kids' minds with selectivity and bad teaching, see

4. Redefine history as process, to be vetted as it goes.

History needs sleuthing. Ever made bread? It is more than the stuff that is put together in it. Show a Martian a bag of flour, an envelope of yeast, some salt, honey, and say here is bread.

No. What it becomes depends on how it is put together, used, whether time is provided for it to puff itself up, or is it set aside and gets cold, crusty, falls. What it becomes depends on the breadmaker's skill, knowledge. As with history: the story told depends on the historian, the skill, the content, ingredients chosen, all this makes the history story his story out of the collected fact stuff.

History as barbecue. What traces of the original meal can be found? What other evidence has disappeared.

Ever burned a lot of stuff in a fireplace? What went in anyway, and what is left.

Is "history" really what is left? What if some ash just wafted away, other parts left lumps or melts - and a later tainted historian just takes a sieve to it, and throws out the greasy bits, what he does not want others to see; or hold over to next time. Just pitch it, make what is left all nice and smooth. Now that's history. His story, but not history.

Is that so?

So watch and vet the historian. Every minute.

This is why summary texts on history are usually so bad. Somebody chose how to interpret the stuff - include, exclude, pound the bread, let it rise or not. And the kids are supposed to swallow it, like dinner. No. Make the story match the evidence.

Instead, give kids all the facts and the content that can be mustered (speaking of barbecue), and let them draw their own conclusions. Do we dare?

What facts or content would be useful for a true, complete story. Do we dump the historians whose systems put out tainted summaries. How to do that, and retain the idea of history as valuable to us. History needs, first and foremost, thorough, unbiased collectors behind the historian who is going to tell the story - archeologists, ephemera, anthropologists, linguists, musicologists.

5. History as a Science. The Science of History.

History is nothing but theory based on observable facts. The more facts that come out, the more a theory may have to be modified. So, if Technorati will not add history as a separate category, shall we just put our history stuff in the science and technology section. They all operate on theory bases, that change with new information. Or should.

The difference with history is that people get invested in one interpretation of it or another. The history of a people, or a series of events, is warm and fuzzy or horrifying story that stems from once observable facts, then filtered and passed on in some fallible way, to meet an agenda. The idea of the history, that explains, enriches and predicts; is easily tainted, and the evidence discarded, like in the barbecue up there.

It is like science, but with more liable to be lost in the transmission. It is a dynamic, ongoing methodology, not a fixed result or a conclusion. Still, all history's conclusions are tentative, pending the next discovery. And fluid, because each teller adds an overlay of personal agenda. Add to the facts, and the story changes. Or should.

6. History as Enemy of Belief. Is That So?
Not necessarily. History, as a process of constantly searching for information and content that may change the theory, the story, only is an enemy of calcified belief.

Dan Widing and Karl Marx, Chemnitz, Germany

Here is an example of calcified belief.  Karl Marx was a socialist. A socialist is bad. Everything about socialism is bad. Karl Marx is bad.

That may be a neocon view. But what if they actually delved into the full thought complex, nuance and all. In some parts of the world, the man is larger than life, worthy of great respect. Look at little tourist at the corner. And Big Karl. Who would not feel dwarfed? To us, Dan is King.  To others, the size, space given to the subject, makes the difference. Karl must be King-er. As with tabs on search engines.

A culture can calcify its own history by stopping the process - either way: at the belief that Marx is great; or at the belief that Marx is anathema.

Either way, then "history" - as defined as a process of ongoing investigation and changing theories, does stop; dates and times get put into textbooks that put everybody to sleep, full of tainted conclusions put there to serve an ideology (anti or pro Marx), and beliefs and ideology take over. Another angle: uses of weasel words to make a viewpoint sound reliable, see ://

What to believe and what not to believe. Ancient issue.

What do the eyes see, is it really so, what if the head rejects what the eyes see, but the heart still yearns. We see "improvement." Or not.

What if there really is another explanation. When to say "miracle" and stop the presses; and when to say, I'd like to know more here. How does the process of history approach it, gathering facts, drawing conclusions; and how does the process of ideology approach it.

On the internet, we get ideologies everywhere, but few historians. We need the tag.

Whatever the religious orientation, or even where there is not an affiliation at all, is there not this idea - the person declaring belief in what he has just seen happen, that it did happen, but in the next breath, asking for help with the unbelief remaining. Western tradition may point to Mark 9:24 at ://

Ideology would stop the presses. Stop here. Don't look further. It is a miracle. A MIRACLE. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

History would say, this seems to be so based on this or that; but we may learn more in the future. So, this is the theory for now. Hold on to it, and keep an open mind.

Cultures can foster open or shut minds. A culture can look at its understanding of its history, and forms beliefs from it. Then decide if matters will calcify. Calcifying is easy because emotion enters in, goals, ideology. Matters get fixed, just like domestic canines and felines "get fixed" in order to fit with the domesticity of the house better. And really fixed. No way back, except by archeology, anthropology, correcting the errors. A system of interpretation emerges, a cultural mindset, that implement a mindset. But how to get at a true history?

7. Pragmatism and History.

History is the great WD-40 of the public interest. History eases the way to consideration of the common good.

Get kids involved in getting history, even on their own. Skip the texts. Without a sense of evolving and evolved history, we are stuck with an inability -- to assess our own leaders in politics, religion, economics, anywhere. If studying history would improve our ability to collect information and draw conclusions to guide us into the future, why on earth would we not.

Teach kids about other kids where they are - Cetinje, Montenegro, for example. look up its history. Here don't teach history well because the money isn't there for historians. You will have to do it yourself. Try :// What happened there may well be happening here, but we won't be alerted because we didn't study the past.

No wonder the interest is so low - Look at the perks in politics, power, and propaganda, silly. Those are far sexier than the dusty mistakes or once-brilliant moves by our forebears.

But our ignorance is more dangerous than the cost of remedying that ignorance. Ignorance led us right into Iraq's morass, for example. Our ignorance of the failings of our elected leaders, in putting short term ego and profit before the rest of us; and ignorance of the history and culture of the country to be invaded. Fools rushing in. Act in haste, repent at leisure. Did your grandmother say that? That applies also to ignorance. Act in ignorance, repent with knowledge.

Ignorance. Ignorance is an intentional idea. A fault concept. A pejorative. Ignorant people, it suggests, deserve their straits. They keep themselves ignorant.

That is different from mere lack of knowledge, lack of access, being barred by others, doing one's best to find out but just not able to, is different. Look at Iraq, painful as it is. Our government deciders did not even ask about or learn the basics of that culture and its historical rifts. Look where our application shock and awe got us, in our ignorance. FN 1

So how to foster an interest in history, especially since it cannot be effectively taught in most schools. Everybody gets bored with the tilted, selective texts with their dusty summaries and dates.

So: Add tags to the popular culture for it. Add history to technorati, flickr, blogs. With a tag for it, people will come. First, curiosity, then perhaps an interest in finding out more. Do more look-ups. Enrich the global conversation. We all have histories. History as a methodology requires content, facts, visibles. We might even get in the habit of requiring disclosure of content and facts relied upon, before we lend our ears to any talking head opinionator.

8. Unmask those Vile Opinionators

Weasel words. Count them. Do not include them as "facts" as a basis for a historical analysis. Propaganda by Weasel. See Avoid Weasel Words at ://

History is separate from people's opinions about it, unless the opinion carefully states exactly which facts it considers, and which facts it disregards. Only then can we assess the opinion - form our own opinion of the opinion. And that is all news seems to be - opinion stacking.

If someone comes up with a textbook that is a series of conclusions and time-lines of dates, that is bound to be slanted, selective, canned perspectives. History is better approached as a hunter-gatherer activity. What is there from the time. What can be concluded from those bits. Constantly changing, as new information emerges. That is history. Beliefs about it are subjective, "revelation" even. There can be a history of beliefs, but the belief itself is not history.

9. History is vital to integrity, to survival without exploitation, if that is ever possible.

Sound the trumpets. Beat the drums. History and the mindset each nation's view of its own history affects foreign relations. It affects how we see each other, comparative cultural mindsets. Ditto. How to learn history? Go after it. Yourself.

Hunt and gather. We are natural hunter-gatherers. Record what is found. Nothing to be lost. Name names.

A name, like a tag, fosters identity, significance. Daniel Widing here. Important. Fun. Resourceful. He is here. He does this, he does that. His history. He and his contributions should not be lost to history. Now, others would impose an ideology on history that excludes him and many lives and how they affected their place and contacts, and says only this quality or that gender or that color matter. The agenda takes over "history" is not history at all, but dogma.

It takes a hunter-gatherer to appreciate history's process, and humans are hunter-gatherers.

Ask as you dig into what you find: Why are these things happening. What clues are there. A people's history, from their archeology, tales, religious beliefs, customs, linguistics. If our leaders disregard, devalue history, we all get swept away. Is that so?

How can Tags help.

Frame the little linguistic search words, signposts for cultural importance, to foster interest in an area. Index words. The shortcut to the grail. Add to the entertainment, celebrity, lifestyle, current events, science and tech, photo organizing, fun, socializing, soundbites and opinions.

Tags give a legitimacy to an interest. Get over the History shmistory. Culture shmulture. History is uncool? Not if it has tags and interesting things are posted.

Have a spat.

How to get fashionable? Get a following? Take spats: who wears spats? Nobody has even seen any. But put them on the counters and in the magazines, on cool people, get Fred Astaire out there with Michael Jackson, and Fred's spats become the next fashion statement. First the action, then the result. First the risk, then the benefit.

Let schools mess themselves up. Teach the kids how to do it themselves. Get a computer in every home. Texts are financed by pushing private interests, and aren't worth keeping. Is that so? Nobody can agree on which texts to use, what the texts should cover, or how to present information, whose agenda should be pushed, so skip it.

10. Trip it for History

Who wants to memorize somebody else's list of dusty events. So skip that idea.

Take a trip to the library. Dump the texts. Go back to original sources, letters from the time, implements, archeology, and let kids find history emerge from the content, the facts, the observables, the shopkeeper's accounts, the plague columns. You could get most of European and Asian history by merely studying the plague- origins, effects on economies and populations and societies, symptoms, religious aspects and responses, all that. Start with a focus and you can get it all, eventually.

Plague columns:  erected all over, to give thanks for a deliverance from the last siege of it, often.

Try a cheap trip, even to Europe. Squash in the middle of the airbus in the middle of the night, with some rental car at the other end, and two backpacks. It costs less than camp. Rooms in pensiones instead of the starred hotels. No reservations. There is always a clean, safe place to stay. And if not, plan to introduce yourself to the local police, and curl up in their parking lot. Do it. One parent, one child. Do the next child next year. Pick a place. Any place. See what you learn there.

Learn the Civil War by going to a battlefield, and letting our little hunter-gatherer heads move all around it. No canned interpretations, no lessons, let the kids figure out what those things meant to the people at the time, and us.

And, add tags.

See if people don't gravitate to a category provided, to see what is there. Perhaps add to it. And enrich the global conversation and understanding.

Add tags for content in history and culture If the tag is there, watch the entries emerge. We bet. History is exploration anyway - and it is unsuitable for summary "texts" because of the abuse of editorializing, slanting. full of secondary summaries bore us to tears, and may well be wrong. Spark an interest in history directly instead. And for comparative cultural mindsets. If someone can't go to a place personally where the events or people were, at least lay it out in accessible bits online, a recreational start. It might lead to some look-ups, self-help, content hobby-reading and investigation, not just celebrity. Worth it. Educate thyself. The tools are here.

FN 1 Sad, sick lesson learned about leaders and ignorance. Wish Bush had valued history, culture. Example. Bush & Co. were unaware until 2003 that there was a difference between Sunni and Shi'a in Irag, very different interpretations of Islam.

Did their appalling ignorance matter. Did this failure to vet a basic rift in the culture affect decision-making at vital levels. Of course. See ://

What difference would tags for history and culture make? If it is not to be emphasized in the schools, or ignored by leaders who go to our best schools and come out dunces, get the media on board. How does the media value it, or not. Does history repeat, can we learn from it, and if so, would the mere inclusion of it as a category attract thinkers in that area. Would an appreciation of history, and finding the fun of the odd, sad, inspiring or kicky stuff in it, add to our conversations with others. Enrich the global conversation.. If others value history and promote it, what are we missing by not doing that as well. Is there opportunity for cross-pollinating and understanding that we simply leave in the dust. If our conversations are about celebrity, entertainment, opinion-churning rather than content, recipes and touristy checklists for countries, are we dumbing ourselves down.

The short-hand. The little bookmark. The file cabinet. The index. What a culture values, thinks is worth looking at. If it isn't in the index, is it it. Is is anything of value. Does it exist. The power of naming. No name, no concept, no concept, nothing there. It slides right by.

How to understand a country, a culture, a group, except for its indices. Make up your own curriculum vitae - a curriculum for life, for analysis, for checking up on the bloviators, forming your own views.

United States
Flickr - Its list of most popular tags excludes concepts for culture, history. There is travel there, and countries.

Add history, and culture.